Natalia Spengler plays the title roll during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Natalia Spengler plays the title roll during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A compassionate take on a classic: This ‘Hamlet’ does what other productions don’t

Compassion and a cool ghost color Theatre in the Rough’s take on a classic

If a production of “Hamlet” is going to stand out, the title character is a good place to start.

Aaron Elmore, director of Theatre in the Rough’s production of the Shakespeare play opening Friday, said the prince of Denmark may be more likable than the indecisive sad boy people may remember from English class.

“I think most productions of ‘Hamlet’ start with the idea of the character that’s hesitant or sad,” Elmore said. “What I think comes out of this production is his compassion.”

The end result, Elmore said, is hopefully a play that gets the audience invested in the well-known material.

“It’s much harder to watch somebody you like get killed,” Elmore said. “I’ve seen many productions of ‘Hamlet,’ and they’re often impressive, but they’re not always touching.”

Natalia Spengler, center, plays Hamlet with Donice Gott, as his mother Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, and Aaron Elmore as Claudius, King of Denmark, during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Natalia Spengler, center, plays Hamlet with Donice Gott, as his mother Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, and Aaron Elmore as Claudius, King of Denmark, during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Natalia Spengler of Juneau will be the one giving the skull-clutching, soliloquy-spouting prince extra humanity on the McPhetres Hall stage.

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“Shakespeare writes people, he doesn’t write genders,” Spengler said. “Hamlet is everyone or can be. He feels everything we feel today. The great thing about this company is we all know each other, and that trust, I think, it shows.”

A woman playing the role of the prince is not a case of stunt casting. There are centuries of precedent for casting a female Hamlet, and Elmore said of the gender swap, “Who cares?”

“We’ve always given parts to the best actors at Theatre in the Rough,” he said.

Elmore, who is also co-founder and co-artistic director for Theatre in the Rough, said he’s wanted to put on a production of “Hamlet” for 20 years, and he has the right actor for the role.

The upcoming play’s interpretation of the late king of Denmark will also stand out, and it is a one-of-a-kind creation.

Elmore, who was one of the main hands behind the giant wooden octopus at the Alaska State Museum, constructed an elaborate, slightly sinister puppet for the role.

The Ghost of the Dead King arrives on stage during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Ghost of the Dead King arrives on stage during a performance of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by Theatre in the Rough at McPhetres Hall on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Bent wood, paper and string make an imposing, ghastly wire-frame interpretation of Hamlet’s dead but talkative dad.

Like the decision to ensure Hamlet was portrayed as caring, Elmore said his creation was inspired by where he felt other productions of “Hamlet” have traditionally come up short.

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“Every ghost I’ve ever seen is stupid, and I didn’t want a stupid ghost in my production,” Elmore said.

He said he briefly considered wearing filling the role by wearing a full suit of armor on stage, but thought it would take people out of the production.

“Plus, puppets can do things people can’t,” Elmore said.

Performances of “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark” will take almost three hours including intermission, Elmore said, but he said it’s still not difficult to make a case that audiences should head out to see the play.

“It’s one of the greatest works of art ever created,” he said. “You’ll do it for Peter Jackson. Do it for ‘Hamlet.’”

Know & Go

What: “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark”

When: 7:30 p.m. July 5 and 6, 10-13, 18-20, 26 and 27. There will be 2 p.m. matinees July 21 and 28.

Where: McPhetres Hall, Fourth and Gold streets.

Admission: General admission costs $22, $15 for students and seniors and $5 for children younger than 13. Tickets can be purchased through jahc.org, at Hearthside Books and at the JACC. Some tickets will also be available at the door even if they are sold out online.

There is a pay-as-you-can performance at 7:30 p.m. July 11.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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